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Home » Film

A cross-country hunt for the Canadian identity

Submitted by on April 29, 2010 – 7:14 pmNo Comment

The Canadian identity has remained, even to the country’s people, like the Northwest Passage to early explorers, a tag line without a clear definition.

Last night four friends from Cornwall, ON, premiered 10 Days across Canada in 16 theatres across the country in an attempt to answer the question that has puzzled pundits and scholars since Confederation: What does it mean to be Canadian?

10 Days saw filmmakers John Earle, Frank Burelle, Ron Piquette and Jamie Carr travel across every province and each of the three territories – by plane, train, automobile, boat and sled –  in an honest, if presumptuous, effort to track down the Canadian identity in a week and a half.

“It was a bold move, but I think it would have been hard to encompass all of the different parts of Canada, and put that together, even if we had a month,” Earle said after the screening at Gloucester’s SilverCity theatre. “I think we would have got a lot of the same answers.”

The documentary, which included interviews with a cross-section of Canadians, revealed similar answers by all to the question (“what does it mean to be Canadian?”), asked over and over by the filmmakers.

Though most of the responses were banal (“polite”), stereotypical (“hockey”) and theological (“God’s land”), many were creative (“Canada is the CFL”), articulate (“we define ourselves by what we’re not”), funny (“being cold, and liking it”) and political (“this is a country of excellence too often governed by mediocrity.”).

Other answers still, were just odd. Lui Passaglia, a placekicker and punter for the BC Lions from 1976-2000, confused Canada for the U.S, quoting a slogan that’s as red and blue as crips and bloods. “This is the land of opportunity!” he proclaimed.

Similarly, the film featured an interview with Dalton McGuinty that was particularly painful to watch. Looking uptight and awkward, McGuinty explained how in winter he watered his pool (!) so his kids would have a backyard rink to skate on.

In addition to appearances by politicians, athletes (former Toronto Maple Leaf Doug Gilmour), comedians (Geri Hall of This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and actors (CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi), the documentary also featured myriad interviews with regular Canadians from across the country.

“I don’t think we were trying to represent all of Canada, but we were trying to get little samples” said Carr, who conducted most of the interviews for the film. “ And they were honest samples because we were walking up to people, putting the mic in their faces and getting honest answers.”

“None of us really expected to come back with a concrete answer,” Burelle added with an air of admittance. “But we did in a way, because it just kept coming up. Everybody kept mentioning the word ‘Freedom.’”

More than any other word in the film, “freedom” is used by nearly two-thirds of the documentary’s respondents to describe being Canadian. Though somewhat simple, the documentarians drew the conclusion that if the majority of Canadians answered “freedom” when asked what it meant to be Canadian, being Canadian must mean to be free.

Whether the film successfully addressed the ever evasive question of a Canadian identity is another question. But what is certain is that the doc no doubt helped  accurately highlight the virtue for which Canadians are best known: kindness.

“How can you go wrong?” questioned Paquette. “We went from one place to the next, not knowing anyone, and we were able to talk to everyone , and we didn’t have to worry about it.”

“I came back home not sure if Canada felt bigger because of how big it is, or smaller because of how similar everybody was,” Burelle added. “It sounds cheesy, but everybody was nice, they cared about people, and it was the same everywhere in the country.”

Remi L. Roy

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